Mushroom season is a fickle mistress. There are, of course, some edible fungi growing throughout the year – St.George’s in spring, velvet shanks in the depths of winter – but autumn is the main event, when the majority, and the finest, of culinary mushrooms pop up through the cooling earth. Traditionally things are winding down by November, but mushrooms are not sticklers for tradition. A lucky warm spell, even following the first frosts, can yield a basket of field mushrooms or boletes or chanterelles.
Additionally, as the season wanes, a lot of the fungi are coming to the end of their reproductive cycle – spores have been released and the mushrooms themselves are beginning to deliquesce or have become large and spongy. Although these specimens are past their ‘prime’ as far as the kitchen is concerned, they are still delicious, and useful. Cleaned, dried, and powdered they can make a powerful umami seasoning for winter soups and stews. They can be turned into a most delicious soup; grey and unattractive to the eye, a deep savoury sigh to the tongue.
Wild Mushroom Soup (serves 4)
1 white onion, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
½ a leek, well-washed and chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
500g wild mushrooms (any edible)
500g floury potatoes, such as maris piper, peeled and chopped
100ml double cream
750ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
4 sage leaves, chopped
handful of flat parsley, finely chopped
100ml dry white wine
salt and pepper
Place the potatoes in a roasting tray with a couple of glugs of olive oil and the rosemary. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt and grind of pepper and put into a preheated oven at 180C for around 25 – 30 minutes, until starting to colour.
Meanwhile, pre-heat a big saucepan, add a good knob of butter (you’ll need more than you think) and, when it’s starting to fizz, add the chopped vegetables. Fry until starting to colour.
Wipe and roughly chop mushrooms, and add to the pan. Let them soften a little, and then add the wine. Allow to reduce by about a third, then pour in the hot stock, the cream, and add the sage. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for around 20 minutes.
Blend the soup until smooth. Check the seasoning. If the soup is a little thick you can thin it with some more stock or a drop of milk. Ladle into warm bowls, sprinkle the chopped parsley on top, and serve with some good crusty bread.
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